“Winning and Losing” Sakurai Famitsu Column vol. 2


Note: Do not repost the full translation. Please use the first two paragraphs and link to this translation. For additional information, please read this post.

This translation is for fan use only, and may not accurately reflect Masahiro Sakurai. The following is a selection from Masahiro Sakurai’s book: Think About the Video Games. If you enjoyed this article, I would strongly encourage you to support Sakurai by buying his books. If you have any questions about this article, please contact the administrator.

Weekly Famitsu April 25th, 2003 Vol. 2

Winning and Losing

In the previous column, I wrote that I “play video games every single day [1].” That quickly turned out to be a lie. Currently, I don’t have any days off to play video games, and I’m in full work mode. Working is hard, but it’s a lot of fun.

Now, prehistorically, or even far before the humans were born, organisms have participated in the competition of life. I feel that no matter how far culture may advance, “winning” and “losing” will be powerful stimuli that are engraved into our DNA.

Competition is the source of fun in video games. Deciding the winner and loser in a face-off, fighting enemy characters, comparing your progress in a game with your friend’s, or trying to beat the high score of another player you’ve never even seen before are all competition. While there’s no doubt that competition makes games fun, how you perceive losing depends on the person. For example, as a game designer you cannot ignore the fact players who have an unpleasant experience where they lose may begin to dislike, or tire of, your game.  Even if that isn’t the case, in a game where multiple people compete, only one person can enjoy the fruits of victory, while the other players don’t have fun. This isn’t a happy experience. If people are going to play a game, I want them to all be happy! Is thinking this way being too greedy?

The series I directed, “Smash Brothers,” are games where you compete and fight each other [2], however, for this reason I am trying to make winning and losing “haphazard [3].” I won’t go into the specifics here, but I try to make it so that if you’re good at competing, you won’t be able to use the same pattern or strategy to win against a player consistently. The rate of “accidents” is high, and overall it’s easy to inject variance into the progression of the game and results. I think it would great to be able to simply laugh and move on to the next game regardless of whether you won or lost.

It’s not that I think playing seriously isn’t fun. I think that playing to win against someone who’s equally skilled has an unparalleled level of tension, and is good. I also understand the feeling of a child who enjoys simply hitting a stationary target in Training Mode.

Truthfully, I don’t watch a lot of sports. I don’t really get thrilled or excited. The reason why is that no matter who wins, I think “everyone did so well!” and therefore I have no team to root for. Although for events like the World Cup, I want to root for Japan, and I do get a little fired up for that. But when I think about how the opponent is also trying hard, I start to think that both teams are very similar [4].

In the ‘98 World cup, when Japan lost, commentators and analysts repeatedly said things like “Japan lost! Japan was weak [5]!” If you know the details, I’m sure there were reasons, but for me, I thought “shouldn’t we just say the other team played well?” And so, as I was working on Smash Brothers at the time, I decided to include the feature of the losers applauding the winner.

Instead of feeling sorry, or being down on themselves, characters compliment their opponents, who fought well. I think this represents the core of “Smash Brothers” very well.

Weekly Famitsu May 2nd, 2003 Vol. 3

Looking Back (a short retrospective interview included in the next issue addressing his previous column)

Sakurai: In the end, the definition of “winning and losing” is something I have been heavily focused on my entire career as a game developer. In the column, I used the example of “Smash Brothers,” but I do think that video games aren’t limited to games that have specifically defined winners and losers.

Interviewer: But, even though there are so many games out right now, when I think “laughing regardless of whether I win or lose,” I think that is Smash Brothers, perfectly. How do you make these games that follow your initial concept so well, and then end up exceeding it? Or rather, even if you try to make a game like this, isn’t it common for the feelings of the creator to be misunderstood by the players?

Sakurai: Well, whether the players understand isn’t really something that can be controlled, so it’s not really worth thinking about.

Interviewer: Oh, is that how it is.

Sakurai: For example, let’s say you put out an item, and you can’t convey what what’s so great about it, why you should buy it. And so if someone who looked like they might have bought it, but ended up not, that’s a presentation failure, which includes its appearance. If you try to create something with a concept in mind, whether or not other people will perceive that concept has more to do with how it presents itself rather than its inner details and mechanics. Also, when you’re making a game, for a variety of reasons you will end up having to remove and cut out many elements of your game. In the end, you may make a game that doesn’t concisely convey the original concept of your game…

Interviewer: I see. So you split that stuff up between everyone.

Sakurai: From the perspective of a game developer, staying true to your concept, and on top of that, to create a work that is as close as possible to the unique, individual “concept” every player will have. I think that is the best way to create things. Even I don’t think Smash Brothers is the greatest game. It’s simply a game that tried to fit one person’s individual values.


1. This quote is an approximation, as I haven’t read the previous article. However, the phrase is very straightforward so I think it’s fine.

2. Sakurai uses the phrase “対戦ゲーム,” or taisen ge-mu, which is kind of a portmanteau that he’s made himself. He’s not really referencing a specific genre or type of game (for reference, “fighting game” would be “格闘ゲーム.” This is why I went with a slightly more generic description.

3. The word he uses here is てきとう, also written as 適当. Kind of like the English word “literally,” it has two definitions that can sometimes feel contradictory. The first definition means “suitable, appropriate, a good fit.” The second definition means “haphazard, careless, or irresponsible.” I chose haphazard because it’s the adjective that fits the best without any strange connotations– the phrases “make winning and losing careless” or “make winning and losing irresponsible” aren’t appropriate word choices in English.

4. While Sakurai uses the word “いっしょ,” or “一緒,” which means “together,” or alternatively “the same.” I think that Sakurai is going for the first definition in the sense that he feels that both teams are basically feeling the same things and going through the same experiences. Other people may think that he actually means the teams are “the same.” While I don’t think this is the case, it’s an arguable point so I wanted to make sure that people now it’s a bit of an iffy statement that could go either way.

5. In my opinion, it’s a bit more common to say a sports team is “weak” in Japan than it is in America– I think it’s rare, if not nonexistent, to hear an analyst on ESPN say a team was “weak,” for example.

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  1. Thank you so much for this and the other Famitsu columns! Now I’d like to see Sakurai’s two columns about Pokemon translated!

    1. In due time! There’s 480 Famitsu columns (so far), so we have a huge backlog to choose from! As of right now, we have six translators helping out. I’ll see if I can get the list that we have cleaned up, and post it so you guys can vote on what column you would like to see.

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